7 November 2002
It's not very often you get to sit back at the end of the day and say that this was one of the defining moments of your life.
Otherwise you'd just be fucked. Steak and kidney pie - defining moment. Phil Taylor still World Darts Champion - my life will never be the same again. It'd be like Dawson's fucking Creek. Except with smaller foreheads.
But anyway. Most people - you sorry fuckers nipping out for a tomato and egg sandwich before rushing back to your "workstation" to "hotdesk" your way just one more half an inch up the boss' suppurating shitcrack, for example - are never going to have a chance to sit back with a cup of tea, pick up the paper and think, "That front page is me."
60 per cent of the thing. Just my work, staring back at me like a returning lover.
Let me explain. Wherever you live, you probably have one late-opening burger bar or kebab shop or fried chicken franchise (Kennedy Fried Chicken or some such not-quite-actionable palaver) that you never go into unless it's one o'clock in the morning and you've had a skinful of Belgian lager.
One reason why you never go in there is that the staff look like they have been bathing in cow brains for their complexion. Another is the time you thought you saw one of them pick up a chicken wing from the floor and dump it in a red cardboard box in a single smooth motion. But what never fails to repel you as you pass are the photographs. Because a hamburger and beans never looked like that - pale and limp against a faded blue backdrop that turns white where it was folded for too long in storage, exhausted but sweating with some strange energy. Those photographs show you something that wants to rest in your bowel for the next thirty years.
Even the lettuce.
Especially the lettuce.
And why? Because food photography is a highly specialised art. It takes a lot of filters, a lot of time and a lot of love to make food look like anything you'd ever want to eat. It's a bit of heated cow gristle, reclaimed from the ribcage with high-pressure hoses, for fuck's sake. Do you expect it to tapdance? But with a good photographer, a snack of rabies on shit can positively sing.
People are much the same. If you look through the photographs you have taken of the man or woman you love over the last twenty years, most of the times they look like an absolute hound. Not just ugly, but physically grotesque. And let me clue you into a little trade secret here. That's because people are physically grotesque.
To create an icon of human perfectibility, you need three hours in make-up, five rolls of film and a subject without a fucked-up jawline. Even then you are only half confident of getting your subject spuffed on in quality men's monthlies across Britain. Looking presentable is an exception, the chances of which can be maximised by preparation but never truly locked down to certainty.
Who'd be a celebrity photographer?
My trade is no less exacting, even if its aims are a little different. Instead of the perfect four white walls of a studio, I have to hang around clubs and hospitality lounges, bars with booze I can't afford and dress codes I stretch to the limit. By the time I get to the perfect moment, I'm often as drunk as my subjects. That's when the real pro shows his class. A firm hand and a clear lens at the hour of the 3am Girls is a source of true power.
You have to be athletic as well. The subjects may be pissed but their bodyguards often aren't. Microcephalic hired muscle usually runs pretty slowly, thank God - fewer muscles and more cardio would make my life a living Hell. But at the end of the night, back in the darkroom, is where it all comes together.
There is a very special point in an evening - the sweet spot - where intoxication crushes the very last moment of self-knowledge in the human brain. You've probably passed it many times yourself, and believe me, you looked fucking awful when you did it. Good job you aren't important enough to justify having me on your tail. Every pitiful little vanity, self-regard and impulse written across a face that can't control its muscles quite right anymore. A fucked-up Punch or Judy, with all the same features as the eight by tens, rearranged to beam out just one message. I cannot be trusted.
After a successful shoot, I develop the films and then leave them in a filing cabinet, arranged by name and most recent TV series. They can lie there for years, until the call comes.
And sometimes, when the call comes, it's just the first.
So here am I, coffee and fag, and I've laid out all the dailies in front of me. Mail, Mirror, Sun, Express...it's the same photo, the same reptile eyes bulging redly from beneath heavy lids. The same half-finished Margarita just to the left of shot. The beads of sweat on the hairline, which seems more receded than on any number of popular afternoon quiz shows.
The phone rang all day yesterday. Now I can sit down and feel like I've just had the best meal of my life.
No jury in the land will find him innocent now. Now he's just food.
And I'm the photographer.